In a part of Sydney where space is at a premium, stepping onto the large grounds of Chiswick is like finding an oasis.
Walking off busy Ocean Street and onto the property set in established gardens feels almost like you’re being led towards a private residence. A walk along the arbour leads to the restaurant’s entrance, and as you stroll you see the twinkling lights of the bar and dining area through multiple paned-glass windows.
Chiswick is co-owned by Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan and together they have created a restaurant with an emphasis on communal dining. There is a bar area, a long communal dining table, an undercover outdoor heated dining area and a large indoor dining room.
The emphasis on the dining experience is that in keeping with the communal feel, all dishes brought to the table are designed to be shared. The menu has a strong emphasis on seasonal produce because the restaurant’s kitchen opens onto a 150-square metre vegetable patch where the restaurant’s gardener grows produce for the kitchen. What is picked that day is presented on plates that evening.
On the last day of autumn our party of 10 headed into Chiswick for the shared-plate seasonal produce dining experience. Because we had a group reservation, we dined from the ‘Collective Menu’ that is set at $80.00 per person.
A word of warning, if you are celebrating a special occasion, Chiswick does not allow you to bring into the restaurant your own cake however, if you do mention in advance that you require a cake, the chefs are happy to create something special for you.
Chiswick is also busy and the aim is to have more than one sitting during the dinner service. We were given the choice of either a 6pm or an 8.30pm sitting and chose to dine at the earlier time.
When we arrived the restaurant was already bustling with a large crowd at the bar and at the communal table. There were a lot of outdoor diners and clearly the heaters were working well as nobody seemed to be cold.
We were shown to a long table at one end of the large dining room and I sat at the end of the table. I could feel cold air coming from the air conditioning that was strong enough to have my blouse blowing around and as it was a cold evening, I asked the waiter if he could have the air-conditioning turned down. He said, ‘I’ll have to speak to the manager’ and off he went. No change.
There is no shortage of waitstaff and our drink orders were taken quickly. The Autumn Collective Menu is a four-course meal and the food started arriving quickly.
First out of the kitchen was the wood-fired garlic bread with garden thyme. The bread was very flat and crisp with a sprinkle of light seasoning. This went well with our pre-dinner drink.
Then we had a dish of heirloom carrots with macadamias, cumin and tarragon. This was a very pretty dish with some lovely subtle flavours.
The last appetiser was the baby artichoke, romesco and espelette pepper. I do love artichokes but you don’t see them all that often on menus. Romesco is a Spanish sauce made with nuts and red peppers. Espellette pepper is found in the Pyrenees and comes from a chilli plant so is reddish in colour. It’s mild in heat and works well with red peppers.
The first dish from the entree section was the petuna ocean trout with pickled daikon, apple and finger lime. At first I thought it was smoked salmon. Everyone thought the sharpness of the finger lime and pickles were a lovely contrast to the creamy, velvety texture of the fish.
My hands-down most favourite dish of the evening was the crispy fried quail with ginger and shallot. The quail was dipped in a buttermilk batter and fried until definitely crispy. There was a sprinkle of ginger and shallot and a kewpie mayonnaise dipping sauce. Sensational and I could eat that over and over.
Then we had garden cucumber with Woodside goat’s curd and oregano. This was a very refreshing dish and a good balance if you’ve just eaten half a plate of fried quail. I was unaware what a good match cucumber and goat’s curd are together.
The main courses were next to arrive and a whole grilled pink snapper with charred broccolini, capers and lemon was put in front of us. The flesh came away from the fish very easily but you do need to be careful here as Drew choked on a bone!
Arriving with cutlery stabbed through it was the wood-roasted Moran shoulder of lamb with zucchini, tomato and mint. This would have been my next favourite dish after the quail. The lamb was so very tender and fell away from the bone with just a nudge. And I do like lamb with mint sauce.
By this point I was pretty full but there was still the whole roasted chicken with grilled corn, miso and green shallot to get through. The chicken was wonderful and this was a great comfort dish and rather like being invited around to your best friend’s house for a Sunday roast – a good one.
Served with the three dishes were plates of green beans with lemon and olive oil. The beans were still vibrantly green with a tenderness but still a bit of crunch – perfect.
Desserts on the Collective Menu are alternate serve and there are two. I was given the lemon pavlova with blackberry ripple. It had lovely presentation although I did find the pavlova a little dry and a fraction too sweet.
Drew had the caramel parfait with peanut praline and black figs. Absolutely no complaints from Drew. This was a wonderful dessert that was rich and sweet but totally devoured by all around the table.
It was time for the next sitting and so our table was cleared and we were up and away.
Chiswick is a restaurant serving seasonal food in a casual yet sophisticated atmosphere. The dishes aren’t complex, fussy or tortured; just honest, real and identifiable. And these days that can be refreshing.
The cool breeze from the air-conditioning dissipated as the room became more busy which was a relief. We did have a rather unusual waitress who startled us with some odd comments but all other staff ran the traditional road of being less familiar. Apart from that and apart from feeling like we were being rushed through to make way for the next sitting, Chiswick is a wonderful dining experience and the restaurant does run like a well-oiled machine. With its communal table, specific menu for groups, and shared-plate philosophy, this is the perfect venue for larger bookings.
Verdict: Generous, quality, seasonal dishes in a vibrant, engaging setting.
Chiswick: 65 Ocean Street, Woollahra NSW 2025
Ph: 61 2 8388 8688